Changes on the Ryan Ranch, located near the Skyline Ranch subdivision, have raised concerns among Teton County residents who care about this property. At The Nature Conservancy, we also care deeply about this place and its conservation legacy.
We are grateful to the conservation pioneers who granted the easements in 1974 and 1977 to ensure this property will remain protected from uncontrolled residential and commercial development.
While we know change is disruptive, we believe the newly created northern wetlands will provide increasingly positive ecological benefits—one of the important values protected by the easement.
Located in areas that were historic wetlands, the new ponds and wetlands will improve water quality and provide waterfowl and shorebird habitat. In addition, more than 150 acres will remain open for grazing and haying.
The Conservancy remains active in monitoring activities on the Ryan Ranch and playing a constructive role there. And we will all continue to benefit from the foresight of the people who conserved this land.
Q: What is The Nature Conservancy’s role with the ranch?
The Conservancy is the steward of two conservation easements on this property. The easements protect the ranch against uncontrolled residential development.
John and Gloria “Georgie” Morgan and Harry and Margaret Barker donated the first conservation easement in Wyoming in 1974 on about 50 acres of the ranch. The second easement on the ranch, donated in 1977 by Harry and Margaret Barker and Peter and Jean Jorgensen, also covers the original 50-acre parcel and protects the remainder of the ranch, consisting of about 170 additional acres.
As the organization entrusted with holding the conservation easements on the property, the Conservancy has been engaged in reviewing the new ranch owner’s proposed projects, ensuring that the legal terms of the conservation easements are upheld.
Q: What are conservation easements?
Conservation easements are one of the most powerful, effective tools available for the conservation of private lands. Their use has successfully protected millions of acres of wildlife habitat and open space in the United States and in many countries.
A conservation easement is a restriction placed on a piece of property to protect its ecological, agricultural or open space values. It is a voluntary, legally binding agreement that limits certain types of uses or prevents uncontrolled development from taking place now and in the future. In a conservation easement, a landowner voluntarily agrees to donate or sell certain rights associated with his or her property, such as the right to subdivide, and a private organization or public agency agrees to hold and enforce the terms of the conservation easement.
Each conservation easement is unique; the rights that can be enforced over time depend upon the explicit terms of the easement. Because conservation easements are designed to provide long-term protection, they have to be written with clear terms to guide future landowners and easement holders. Change can occur when a landowner decides to exercise retained rights outlined in the easement.
The Conservancy stewards 170 easements around Wyoming, safeguarding some 280,000 acres. We take very seriously our responsibility to steward all conservation easements with which we have been entrusted. We regularly and diligently enforce the easement rights that we hold.
Q: Without the conservation easements, what could have happened to the ranch?
Without conservation easements, the 1977 Teton County regulations could have allowed a subdivision of up to 68 homes on the nearly 220-acre property. More than 30 homes could have been allowed under today’s Teton County regulations.
One of the most powerful aspects of conservation easements is this ability to limit subdivision and protect ecological, agricultural or open space values for future generations.
Q: Why is the Conservancy allowing the disturbances on the ranch?
When accepting and stewarding a conservation easement, the Conservancy has an obligation to uphold the terms of the easement, without going beyond those terms. The ranch’s new owner did not ask the Conservancy to amend the easements in any way.
The terms of the 1977 Ryan Ranch conservation easements allow for changes to occur on the property, including the building of a limited number of homes.
One of the purposes of the easement is to protect and enhance natural, ecological and aesthetic values of the property.
The new ponds and adjacent wetlands will support enhanced swan and other wildlife habitat. The berms, which are not prohibited by the easements, were required to be vegetated with native species to encourage a variety of wildlife habitat.
Additionally, the ponds and wetlands should improve the quality of the water flowing through the ranch.
Q: How many residences are allowed under the terms of the conservation easements?
Per the 1977 easement, the residence that existed on the ranch at the time the easement was granted is allowed and may be maintained. In addition, there are four residential structures allowed on the ridge above the original home site, which may be subdivided from the rest of the ranch, and one additional residence and associated structures are allowed in the bottomland.
The current owner is planning to construct a new residence with outbuildings in the bottomland, near the existing barn.
Q: What role does the Conservancy play in the approval process of the home?
The Conservancy’s role is limited to the terms of the easement, which includes language regarding how many residences may be built and in what location. The Conservancy has determined that the landowner has the right to build a new residence in the proposed location.
While the easement provides specifics about the size of other buildings on the property, it does not provide any restrictions on the size or construction of the proposed house. Teton County Regulations have clear guidelines on construction that reflect community standards. The architectural plans will have to be approved by the County.
Q: What is the review process?
The easements have undergone extensive internal and external review. The Conservancy is committed to thoroughly and fully enforcing the rights we hold while not infringing on private property rights reserved by the landowner and protected by Wyoming law in doing so.
Q: What is the status of the wetland project funded and developed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on the southern end of the property?
After extensive internal and external review, the proposed project has been approved by the Conservancy. If advanced, this project will extend the spring-melt wetlands on the property by constructing low structures that temporarily hold back water. This will enhance early season migratory waterfowl habitat and still support late season grazing.